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Preaching after Disaster

January 14, 2010

(I know that I haven’t posted in a while, and I hope to be able to write a post about my extended blog silence soon, but right now my focus is on other things)

I’ve having bit of a hard time right now.

I’m struggling.  I’m unsure of myself.  I don’t know what to say.

The images coming from Haiti are horrific.  The stories are gut-wrenching and heart-breaking.

And I have to preach on Sunday.

I am supply preaching this week.  I turned in my bulletin on Tuesday afternoon, and due to my work schedule at my part-time job, I didn’t see a computer or tv from 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon, until late Wednesday morning.  When I woke yesterday, I learned of the massive quake in Haiti (through Twitter, of all things).  My bulletin already turned in (and copied, thanks to a very efficient church secretary), I am locked into preaching the Gospel lesson from the lectionary – John 2.1-11, the Wedding at Cana. (of course, if it wasn’t a supply gig, and I was the settled pastor, I would feel comfortable throwing out the service and starting from scratch, but that is not the case here)

My dilemma is this – how to link the passage about Jesus’ first sign (miracle) and to a message of compassion/hope/call to action.  And, it is also the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Still, this is a first for me – preaching right after a disaster – and it is so far away.  How much should I focus on it when there are many many needy people in the church community I am preaching in?  Many people don’t have a lot of resources to give – HOWEVER, this congregation is known for their huge hearts for mission work.

Those of you who are preaching the lectionary this week – What are you doing to link the Gospel with the disaster?

Picture credit – New York Times

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy permalink
    January 14, 2010 2:01 pm

    We are doing a preacher exchange in our neighborhood Preaching Christian Unity for Unity Sunday. I too am struggling with the disaster in Haiti, I’m in the midst of looking at linking Christian Unity with our call to BE CHURCH all together — this is the call. My struggle – like you – I work part time and had my bulletin in and am now working to put the wedding at Cana in the Unity message.

    This is Jesus’ first miracle in John. In a way this comes at a time when he was not planning to do a miracle. Perhaps part of our call in Christian unity is to come together not only on these planned dates of unity but the unplanned such as this disaster.

  2. Susan Rothenberg permalink
    January 14, 2010 3:08 pm

    I’m in a similar place. Prayers for you, for me, and for all of us to bring a Word to our congregations this weekend.

  3. January 14, 2010 3:25 pm

    I, too, am supplying this Sunday and wrestling with the same challenge. I wonder about the similarities between this first “sign” and the feeding of the 5,000. In both cases, Jesus responds to a need. In both circumstances, Jesus doesn’t create an abundance out of nothing. On the hillside, he begins with a few fish and some bread; at the wedding he begins with water. The results; needs are met…abundantly. Isn’t that our call…to respond to the needs of others……by sharing whatever we can; no matter how small and insignificant it may seem….so that God can perform a miracle of abundance?
    That’s where my thoughts and prayers have taken me so far.

  4. Sam permalink
    January 14, 2010 3:30 pm

    At the time of Christ, even the poorest would come together for a week of celebration at a wedding. And even in the harshest economic times, the world is coming to help its poorest, the people of Haiti. And as stated above, as with the feeding of the 5000, it isn’t just God doing a sign, it’s God doing a sign WITH us. These are just some ideas roiling around right now, I’m praying with all of us having to preach this Sunday cause this one’s a doozy.

  5. LeAnn Blackert permalink
    January 14, 2010 3:47 pm

    I have been struggling with the same thing and am thinking that the answer lies in our own question of how we are to respond to such a large disaster. The turning of water into wine can seem magical and meaningless in such a time, but what if the answer is that in this moment of need Jesus did the one thing he was able to do to help his friends – using resources available to him to create what they needed. So I am leaning toward us not freezing in the face of enormous tragedy but offering what we have available to us to help. Each of us can probably find one small thing to do to help – if not those in Haiti then the neighbor next door. This is where my thoughts are heading in this moment.

    Blessings as you preach on a difficult day …

  6. Michelle permalink
    January 14, 2010 6:34 pm

    some random thoughts I’m playing with – John’s use of symbolism:
    the wedding/banquet is a symbol of the great heavenly feast, Christ is bridegroom who provides the wine which the host could not
    the jars held the water for purification – 1 cup per guest (at 15-20 gal, that would’ve made over 1900 guests! Don’t think that many were in attendance, so the wine produced would’ve been an overabundance – wine is the symbol of new life, “new covenant sealed in my blood”
    water = first creation, wine = new creation
    passage begins – on the third day – recalls Apostles’ Creed – on the third day he rose again from the dead – John isn’t writing about any 3rd day (if you go count them up) of traveling or doing – he’s giving a heads-up that this is resurrection-focused (he writes these signs that you may come to believe) – there’s something Messianic going on here
    Seems like somehow, the incomplete water, the 1st creation wasn’t enough, water ran dry. Christ came to give life – new creation – Christ is the one who saves and continues to provide life, even in the midst of our disasters and hopelessness.
    Don’t know if any of that helps. I’m still trying to formulate as well. Many blessings on all who are preaching this Sunday.

  7. Lee Ellingson permalink
    January 14, 2010 8:34 pm

    I plan to preach a sermon titled “When the Wine Runs Out” from John 2:1-11, approaching it from this perspective: how does our theology respond in real time when life lies in ruins and tatters? when we face the biggest disaster we can imagine at the moment? The turning of water into wine at a wedding might not seem to compare to the devastation in Haiti, but it was considered a breach of the greatest magnitude to run out of wine at a wedding. What did they do? They immediately turned to Jesus. The miracle, in my thinking, was not Jesus’ turning the water into wine, but in the disciples seeing “the first glimpse of his glory” (v. 10, The Message) with the result that they put their faith in Him. Tragedy is a reality, whether something as simple as running out of wine, or as devastating as a 7.0 earthquake. The miracle is seeing his glory at work … of putting our faith in him … in the midst of life’s most unbearable situations.

  8. Irene permalink
    January 14, 2010 9:04 pm

    I’m in the same boat… here are some initial thoughts… My thoughts revolve more around MLK day, but I think the devastation in Haiti can be intertwined…

    Two things stand out to me–Jesus saying “My hour has not yet come”–how often have we thought it wasn’t the right time and yet called to action anyway?

    The second part is that I can’t help but note that the servants who drew the water knew what happened (where the wine came from)—even though the guests and the chief steward did not know—they were the ones that labored…and perhaps the least among us are the ones who know—who acknowledge where the power/difference happens and the rest of us reap from the sacrifice of those we don’t see or acknowledge—the servants had to work hard to fill those jugs with water…

    In this time with the horrible disaster in Haiti, it’s too easy now for us to question God (although that’s okay) but in this time, can we see the servants filling the jars? Those that KNOW what the Lord is doing–that will lead to abundance? We may not know where it always comes from, but to keep our eyes and hearts open for the ways in which it is happening.

  9. adelina pecchia permalink
    January 14, 2010 10:11 pm

    In the last couple of years right after or during the Christmas season some sort of horrific disaster has happened that affects the world. These events seem to be eery lingering shadows of the decree of King Herod to kill the innocents. Even then there was a foreshadowing of the cycle of death after new life has come into the world.
    So how do we preach and teach on the first miracle of Jesus in relation to what is happening in Haiti?

    Firstly, water is going to be a very vital neccesity for the sustanance of life in Haiti. We need to bring water to the people of Haiti.
    Secondly,the “new wine” then can be the nourishing provisions of money, supplies, prayers, and comfort we can bring to our brothers and sisters in Haiti whose natural sources have been trampled on.
    Lastly, in God there is no shortage. Remember in our story Mary encouraged those around her we to “listen and do what he tells us to do.” When we do there is more than enough for all.
    Rev. Adelina Pecchia – Edmonton

  10. debbie permalink
    January 14, 2010 10:27 pm

    I feel for all of you!! This is the second sermon I have ever written and preached I am still in school!!!! Had my sermon all written in a nice neat box then I am at a complete loss at what to say,such a horrible disaster… here is what I have the sermon was about ah-ha moments in our lives that show us there is God the disciples first ah-ha moment was Jesus turning water to wine and I get this thought taking a shower… God is there Jim Wallis says so wonderfully” God does not cause evil, god is not a vengeful retributive God, waiting to strike us down God is in the midst of this tragedy, suffering with them ….When evil strikes it is easy to say were is God in all this. The simple answer is God is there suffering with those who are suffering.”
    What an awesome thing to know that God is there with them and think of the unity with all the other countries pulling together that is what MLK is all about that IS the biggest AH-Ha of all!!!God is there and God is pulling the world together I think that is what I am going to say so I really do not have to change all of my sermon just add to it I am praying this is the right way to go

  11. Lynn Rhoades permalink
    January 15, 2010 10:49 am

    (though the servants who had drawn the water knew)…the servants…those who serve always know…the way…the grace and peace of Christ. It’s the point…we are called to serve and when we do there is a deep well of living water from which to draw. morning thoughts

  12. Steve Strand permalink
    January 15, 2010 1:31 pm

    A Prayer based on John 2-

    God, Creator of all, the world needs a glimpse of your glory. And right now we’re praying not for water to be turned to wine, but just basic water and food and medical supplies for the suffering people of Haiti. We believe you have the power to provide and know that you choose to use human instruments. Thank you for your use of our means even though they may be meager. You bless and multiply them to fill the hungry with good things. Just as you used basic urns for ceremonial waters, you can graciously work through our humble faith resources in whole new ways to meet the need of this hour. Beyond the physical bread that’s needed, you offer yourself, Lord Jesus, as the bread of life. Beyond the water to quench parched throats, you offer yourself as living water. Beyond the healing of human bodies, you offer complete wholeness of spirit. Yet, we know that in your ministry on earth, you began with the basic physical need at hand and you asked for human response. You have compassion on the suffering, and you call us to follow you and provide for the needs before us in Haiti, with trust that your power will be released for life and salvation, that your glory would be seen and people believe again. Amen.

  13. Julie permalink
    January 15, 2010 5:44 pm

    I’m preaching this Sunday, too. I want to try to talk about the great mystery of that ‘better wine’ which is what we get when we share in communion with Christ and with others; finding the courage and compassion of Christ to embrace the suffering of others; and being given the best – which is God’s resurrection spirit made real in our communion; the new life of love. Well, I haven’t said that very well but I hope you get a feel of what I’m trying to say.

  14. January 15, 2010 9:58 pm

    No one will be that upset if your sermon doesn’t match the title in the bulletin, or if you choose another reading. For what’s it’s worth, I wrote a short article on preaching after natural disasters; you can find it on (There’s a link near the top, right corner of the homepage.) There are some suggestions about the readings this week (wedding of Cana) and next (Body of Christ) at the end. Two friends and I did a podcast on the same subject which you can find there as well.

    God bless,

  15. January 16, 2010 3:42 pm

    Thanks for all the great responses and discussion. I think I have my sermon written, but now I am trying to figure out what to do for the Children’s Moment.

    Are you planning on saying anything about the earthquake to the kids of the church, or are you going to just focus on the Wedding at Cana?

    I feel it would do a great disservice to the kids if I were to ignore the tragedy, but would I be stepping on parent’s toes by bringing it up?

  16. January 16, 2010 4:54 pm

    Ah, my sisters and brothers…
    “Do whatever she tells you…”
    May all your words turn to wine
    Mary trusted her son
    And directed the stewards
    to do the same.
    Empty jars that we are,
    may we be transformed
    and may our words
    bring life
    in Spirit
    and grace.

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